Oh Please Tavis Smiley Cry Me A River

Talk show host Tavis Smiley and his sidekick Princeton Professor Cornel West are currently on their promotional “Poverty Tour” to 15 cities to raise awareness about poverty in America.

And since poverty in America started on January 21, 2009, they are making very clear who is to blame for the current living conditions of the poor and working class: President Barack Obama.

As I wrote over at TheGrio Tavis and Cornel’s criticisms of the Obama administration have merit but unfortunately these critiques are also full of personal shadiness and willful ignorance of the current political realities. Of the debt ceiling deal Tavis said,

“I don’t understand how the president could agree to a deal that does not extend unemployment benefits, does not close a single corporate loophole and doesn’t raise the taxes on the rich,” said Smiley. “The poor are being rendered more and more invisible in this country. Nobody, not the president, not the Republicans in Congress, is speaking to the truth of the suffering of everyday people.”

Let’s focus on Tavis for the moment. The problem I have with this view is that Tavis knows that no extension of unemployment benefits or tax revenues had any chance of becoming a part of this deal. Why? Because they would have been blocked by Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Could President Obama have used the so-called bully pulpit and said, “Congress must pass a debt ceiling bill that includes an extension of unemployment benefits to help poor and working families.” Yes.

Could a bill with an extension of these benefits pass the current House of Representatives? No. And the country would have defaulted because nothing would have gotten passed if the President didn’t compromise.

Tavis knows that the President only has so much power with the whole separation of powers thing so why does he continue to bash President Obama?

Turns out Tavis made the mistake of being a little too truthful in an interview on CSPAN where he made the point that President Obama has never invited him to the White House.


“Prior to his being elected, [President Obama] came on my radio programs and TV programs with regularity,” Smiley said. “Once he got elected and my critique of him — about holding him accountable to various things didn’t sit so well with him or the people around him — he has not, at this point, come on my TV or radio programs one time since he’s been in this White House.” Smiley said that Obama, whom he’s known for years, “is the first president in my professional career that hasn’t invited me to the White House.”

Previously, Tavis’ partner Professor Cornel West had expressed a similar beef when he noted the fact that he was not given a ticket to the inauguration after initially supporting President Obama during the campaign.

Tavis and Professor West need to stop the charade. A “Poverty Tour” that doesn’t register voters or educate the people attending these events on the political process and explain why more assistance for the poor is not possible with this current Congress then what’s the point? There needs to be solutions offered. It’s perfectly fine to criticize this administration constructively but when it looks like you are just mad because you were left off the guest list you aren’t in it for the poor, you are in it for yourself.

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